A quick trip out to Napa Valley!
My wife and I were supposed to get engaged in Napa Valley, CA. You see, some of my good friends from Baton Rouge had moved out to Napa, and Laura and I were talking about going out there on vacation. As it turned out, my friends got pregnant, and their due date was the very weekend that we had been talking about. Needless to say, we didn’t make the trip back in 2010. (I ended up popping the question to Laura back in Atlanta…but more on that some other time!)
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to visit Napa as part of Panasonic’s international launch of their new Countertop Induction Oven. This oven is pretty darned nifty, but we’ll come back to the food in a bit. First, Napa. And of course wine!
I had never been out to Napa Valley, so I was quite excited to make the trip. I actually met my sister out there, so it was nice to see a familiar face out on the other side of the country. (Courtney lives in Nashville, so I only get to see her a couple of times a year…and this time, we both left our respective kids at home!) We didn’t have much time for researching Napa before the trip, so we ended up planning on the fly. Normally, I’m a serious planner, but I gotta admit that it was kinda fun just planning as we went.
The first thing we learned about visiting vineyards in and around Napa Valley was the need for reservations. We had no clue! Needless to say, we didn’t have reservations. So we both sat there on our laptops over breakfast on the first morning reading about vineyards that didn’t require reservations. We also needed vineyards near the southern end of Napa Valley as we planned to Uber it from our hotel to the vineyards and back. (Uber is a great way to get between wineries if you are planning on drinking!)
We stayed at the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa, CA, and I can only say amazing things about this property! The accommodations were incredible, and we were greeted with a bottle of the resort’s signature wine waiting for us in our rooms. After a 6-hour cross-country flight and another 1.5 hour drive up from the San Francisco airport, that bottle of wine was much appreciated! We both ordered room service for dinner as well as breakfast, and the food was top-notch. Seriously!
That first afternoon in Napa, we joined the Panasonic team for a trip up the Valley to the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. (The CIA is located ~30 minutes north from the actual town of Napa. If you get the chance, I highly recommend visiting both CIA as well as the town of St. Helena itself. There are 2 restaurants and a bakery/cafe on site, but definitely make reservations well in advance of your trip. The advance planning is worth it, though, and you won’t be disappointed!)
Later that afternoon, Courtney and I decided to check out the tasting room on site at the Meritage Resort. That’s right…the resort were we stayed had it’s own tasting room. Trinitas Cellars’ tasting room is located in a cave beneath their 7 acres of vineyards. (And remember that bottle of wine in our room that I mentioned earlier? Yup, that was from Trinitas. And it was excellent!)
The next day, we had the morning and early afternoon free before we were scheduled to meet up with the Panasonic team to learn more about the Countertop Induction Oven. So Courtney called us an Uber and we headed over to Domaine Chandon.
My sister really wanted to taste sparkling wines, and I happily went along with this plan. We arrived right when the tastings began, and that was clearly a good plan as the tasting room was noticeably more crowded when we left an hour later. I may or may not have signed up for the Chandon’s sparkling wine club while I was there. And I may or may not have sent us a case of sparkling wine back home. What? It’s the holidays, and sparkling wine makes great hostess gifts!
After wrapping up at Chandon, we had a couple of more hours left so we decided to grab an Uber and head over to Darioush. Founded by Darioush Khaledi, this vineyard brings to life the combination of Darioush’s knowledge of wine (which he learned growing up in Iran) with the unique terrain of the Napa Valley region. Courtney and I sampled several of their wines, and we quite enjoyed ourselves there. Featuring grand Persian architecture, this winery is definitely worth a visit! We dropped by early afternoon on a Thursday, and it wasn’t hard to get a seat at the bar for a tasting.
And last but not least, the Countertop Induction Oven! This new appliance from Panasonic was the entire reason we were out there, and I must say that this is a really unique appliance. Designed for the home kitchen, this oven uses both induction and infrared technology. (In case you’re not familiar with induction style cooking, this method uses magnetic resistance to heat cookware. It can increase temperature much faster than traditional gas or electric style cooking.)
Panasonic’s Countertop Induction Oven (the CIO) comes with a dishwasher-safe grill pan, so no special bakeware is needed. Thanks to the induction technology, the CIO can be used to cook dinner for 4 people in less than 30 minutes. Seriously! I saw it happen! The grill pan is designed to reach higher temperatures in the center of the pan. As such, you can place meat in the center of the pan and veggies around the outside…and everything is done in the same amount of time. How cool is that?
You may have noticed that I mentioned grill pan. The CIO includes a number of pre-programmed cooking styles, including Grill. Yes, you can actually achieve perfect grill marks indoors. Right on your countertop! (That is particularly attractive to me as my grill is covered by snow for a good chunk of the year…and you guys know how much I love to grill!)
I used the Countertop Induction Oven last week to make a batch of these Oven Roasted Potato Wedges. Woah! They cooked quickly and evenly, and the outside was perfectly crispy. Pretty much exactly what I’m looking for in a potato wedge…and look at those nice grill marks! The CIO also comes with a recipe book developed by the folks at the Culinary Institute of America. I spied recipes like Jerk Pork Chops, Baked Lemon-Stuffed Trout and Caramelized Root Vegetables…all cooked indoors on your countertop.
All in all, it was a whirlwind trip out to Napa, but I enjoyed every second of it! Not only did I get to learn about Panasonic’s CIO, but I also saw my sister and tasted some great wine. I’m definitely planning on heading back out with Laura sometime soon. (It’s just strange to me that I can fly to London faster than I can fly to Napa, though…)
Have you guys been to Napa? What are some other tips and tricks I should know about for my return visit? Next time, we plan on visiting some of the wineries located further up the valley, like Robert Mondavi and Cakebread.